Betsy DeVos, a billionaire conservative activist from Michigan, has fought hard for expanding charter schools as education in the state struggles
Two years ago, Jonathan Clark was sending his four school-age kids to four different schools in Detroit.
We were driving 200 miles a week just to and from school, he said. His three oldest all girls, ages 14 to 16 were enrolled at charters, privately run schools funded by the government that promise better educational outcomes.
Clark was able to send his kids to schools all over the city because of school choice, the policy that allows kids to get educated outside their home district. But Clark said the conditions at these charter schools were no different from whats typical of a public school in Detroit: a lack of resources needed to educate students, high teacher turnover, and low test scores.
These are all things they give bad marks to DPS [Detroit public schools] on, he said, but charters are doing the same.
Thats why Clark is alarmed by Donald Trumps nomination of Betsy DeVos to lead the US Department of Education.
DeVos, a billionaire and conservative activist from the state, has been one of the strongest defenders in Michigan of expanding charter schools and choice.
DeVos and her husband, Dick, have long been a force in education policy efforts in Michigan, as well as other sensitive political issues such as the Michigan legislatures 2012 decision to pass right-to-work legislation. The DeVoses have contributed at least $7m to state lawmakers and Michigans GOP party including support for a failed $5m effort to pass a pro-school-voucher voter referendum in 2000.
Public education advocates who oppose DeVoss nomination point to Michigans education record particularly in Detroit, where nearly half of students attend charters.
Since a quarter-century ago, charter advocates have pursued an agenda that has included a lift on the cap for how many can open in the state, as well as an expansion of school choice. Along the way, the states academic performance has dropped, and Detroit has probably felt the biggest impact.
Though charter advocates point to studies that suggest student gains have been made at charters, the citys disconnected array of schools has developed into a frenetic status quo. Just this year, the district has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, prompting teachers facing potential payless work days to stage mass protests, and a federal lawsuit is now attempting to assert a constitutional right to literacy an argument couched in the dismal performance scores of Detroit students.
Whats more, the states policies and regulation of charters has been so lax, critics routinely refer to the citys educational landscape as the wild west. Indeed, a federal audit this year noted Michigans charter school law does not include provisions for regulating conflict-of-interest issues. The state also allows for-profit charters to be established, a practice prohibited elsewhere.
Originally found athttp://www.theguardian.com/us